Architecture of Love
- Genre: Romance
- Age: 18+
- Status: Ongoing
- Language: English
- Author: Estesy Sarai Martinez
The rhythmic hum of the helicopter’s blades, thump-thump, thump-thump, settled in my head, whispering a coded message I could easily decipher: “Not him, not now. Not him, not now.”
But I knew for sure that my plea was useless, that my words were in vain. I couldn’t run away. I couldn’t hide. I could only continue as I was, hurtling at more than a hundred miles an hour toward a destination I thought I had eluded five years ago. And toward the man who had already been part of my past.
I told myself that I no longer wanted that man. However, I couldn’t deny that I still needed him like the air I breathed.
I crumpled an architectural magazine in my lap. I didn’t have to look down to see the man on the cover. His image was as clear in my memory as if I had seen him yesterday. His hair was black and shiny, with copper reflections when the sun hit it. And his eyes were so blue and deep that I could drown in them.
In the magazine, he was sitting nonchalantly on the corner of a table, the crease of his dark gray trousers perfectly defined. His white shirt seemed neatly ironed; the cufflinks shone. Behind him, the Manhattan skyline was framed by a wall of glass. It conveyed boldness and confidence, but in my imagination, I saw more.
I saw sensuality and sin. Power and seduction. I saw a man with his shirt collar undone and his tie loose. A man who was completely at home in his skin, who took over a room just by walking into it.
I saw the man who had wanted me.
I saw the man who terrified me.
I remembered the feeling of his skin against mine. I even remembered its smell: woody, musky, and with a slight hint of smoke.
Above all, I remembered how his words seduced me. How they made me feel. And now, as I flew over the Pacific, I couldn’t deny the emotion that electrified my body, just knowing that I was going to see him again.
Of course, that’s what scared me.
As if reading my mind, the helicopter tilted sharply, and my stomach dropped. I put a hand on the window to steady myself as I looked out at the deep blue ocean, noticing that the rugged coastline of Los Angeles was receding further and further away.
“We’re arriving, Miss Brooks,” the pilot said shortly after. His voice came clearly through the headphones. “We are just a few minutes away.”
“Thank you, Clark.”
I didn’t like to fly, even less by helicopter. Perhaps I had an overflowing imagination, but I was unable to stop thinking that the continuous movement of these machines vibrated, loosening lots of nuts and cables that were essential.
I came to assume that I must travel by plane or helicopter from time to time. I was an executive assistant to one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, so flying was part of my job. But even though I resigned myself to that reality and even managed to take it with a certain Zen attitude, I still got very nervous during takeoff and landing. To have the earth come closer while, at the same time, the helicopter leaning toward it was so unnatural that it scared me.
Although the truth was that before my eyes, there was no land anywhere. As far as I could see, we were still flying over the water, and I was about to mention that minor detail to the pilot when the island appeared behind my window. My island! I smiled just looking at it and breathed in again and again until I felt calmer and quite recovered.
The island was not really mine, of course. It belonged to my boss, Nick Dermont. Well, to be exact, it belonged to Dermont Vacation Properties, which was part of Dermont Real Estate Development, which, in turn, was part of Dermont Holdings, one of the most profitable business corporations in the world owned by one of the most powerful men in the world.
However, in my imagination, Santa Cortez Island was mine. And not just the island; but also the project and all that it promised.
Santa Cortez was one of the smallest islands in the Northern archipelago, off the coast of California. It lay just beyond Catalina Island and had been used for many years as a naval installation, along with San Clemente Island. Unlike the latter, which was still in the hands of the army and in which there was a military base, as well as barracks and other signs of civilization, Santa Cortez was not urbanized; it had been used for hand-to-hand combat and weapons training. At least, that was what they told me. The army was not exactly distinguished by speaking clearly about their activities.
A few months ago, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about the military presence in California. In it, the two islands were mentioned, and it was stated that the army was no longer carrying out operations in Santa Cortez. There was no more information about the island. Still, I had shown it to Dermont.
“Maybe it’s for sale, and if so, I think we should move quickly,” I had said, offering him the newspaper.
I had just filled in his agenda for the day, and we were briskly walking down the hall toward a meeting room where no less than a dozen bankers from three different countries were waiting with Charles Maynard, Dermont’s lawyer, for a meeting on investment strategies to begin. Investments and taxes were scheduled for a long time.
“I know you’re looking for an island in the Bahamas to build a wedding resort on,” I had continued, “but since we haven’t found the right one yet, I thought that in the meantime, a luxury family resort with convenient access from the United States could have many possibilities as a business model.”
Dermont had picked up the newspaper and read the article without stopping until we were in front of the glass doors of the meeting room. I had been working for him for about five years now, and I had learned to read his expressions, but at the time, I had no idea what he was thinking.
He had handed the newspaper back to me, held up a finger for me to wait, entered the room, and addressed the bankers:
“Gentlemen, I apologize, but something unforeseen has come up. Charles, would you be so kind as to take over the meeting yourself?”
And he had gone back out into the hall, not bothering to wait for Maynard’s answer or the bankers’ consent, totally certain that everything would go well and just as he wanted.
“Call Nigel Galway at the Pentagon,” he had told me in the hallway as we headed for his office. “You will find him in my private contacts. Tell him I’m interested in buying the island. Then find Aiden. He went to the Century City construction site to help Trent with a problem that had arisen during construction. Ask him if he can be gone long enough to have lunch with us at The Ivy.”
“Oh,” I had exclaimed, trying not to fall flat. “Us?”
Having Aiden made sense. Aiden Ward was the vice president of Dermont Real Estate Development and, at the time, was overseeing the construction of Dermont Plaza, three office buildings off Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City. What I didn’t understand was why Mr. Dermont wanted me to accompany them when he usually limited himself to informing me after his meetings only of those details he wanted me to supervise or investigate.
“If you’re going to lead this project, it’s logical that you be present from the first meeting.”
My head had started spinning, I swear.
“If you’re interested in real estate development, particularly for commercial projects, you couldn’t have a better mentor than Aiden,” he replied. “Of course, your working hours will be extended since I will continue to need you as an assistant. You can still delegate tasks as long as you don’t overdo it. Also, I think Rachel would like to work more hours,” he added, referring to his weekend assistant, Rachel Peters. “Based on the business plan that Trent submitted for the Bahamas proposal, write your own draft with a timetable. Check the time on your watch. You won’t have it ready before our meal, for sure. But you can raise some discussion topics for us.” He looked me in the eye, and I caught a gleam of humor in his. “Or am I assuming too much? I thought real estate was one of your personal interests, but if you don’t want to move into a management position…”
“No!” I exclaimed, almost without thinking, as I stood up. “No… I mean, yes. Yes, Mr. Dermont, I want to work on this project.”
In fact, what I wanted was not to hyperventilate, although I wasn’t sure I was going to achieve that.
“Good,” he said. We had reached my desk, located before the door of his office. “Call Nigel. Organize the food. We’ll see where this takes us.”
‘This’ had led me in a more or less straight line to this moment. I was officially the project manager for the Cortez resort, owned by Dermont Vacation. At least, I was today.
Hopefully, I’d still be there tomorrow. Because that’s what it was all about, right? Whether the news I got two hours ago would wreck the Santa Cortez project or whether I could save it along with my fledgling career in real estate.
It was too bad I needed Marcus Steele to pull it off.
My stomach flipped over, and I told myself not to worry. Marcus would help me. He had to; everything I longed for depended on him.
Given my frayed nerves, I especially appreciated the soft landing. I put the magazine in my leather bag, unbuckled my seatbelt, and waited for Clark to open the door. As soon as he did, I breathed in the fresh fragrance of the ocean and lifted my head to feel the breeze on my face. I immediately felt better, as if my worries and dizziness couldn’t compete with the beauty of this place.
And there was no doubt that it was beautiful. Beautiful and virgin, with meadows and trees, dunes, and beaches strewn with shells.
Whatever the military had done to this island had not harmed the natural habitat. In fact, the only signs of civilization were right where we had landed. There was a heliport with room for two helicopters, a pier, a metal shed used as a store, and another shed with two chemical toilets. There was also a forklift, a generator, and several other machines that had been brought in to start clearing the land. Not to mention the two surveillance cameras they had installed to please both the Dermont International Security department and the insurance company.
There was a second helicopter and, behind it, a path that left this rickety work area and would take me into the still-virgin interior of the island. And I supposed Nick, his wife, Nikki, and Wyatt Royce, the photographer Nick had hired to shoot his wife on the beach and do a story on the island before we developed it, were already there.
While Clark stayed with the helicopter, I followed the path. Almost immediately, I regretted not changing out of my skirt and heels for something more comfortable before heading out on this excursion. The terrain was rocky and uneven, and I was going to end up with scuffed and damaged shoes. I had wanted to put on jeans and hiking boots, but I had been in a hurry. Anyway, if I managed to get this project back on track, I would consider my favorite blue stilettos a small sacrifice.
The terrain rose in a gentle slope, and when I reached the top of a low hill, I found myself looking at a small sandy cove sheltered by some rocks. The waves hit the stones, and the water droplets that were thrown sparkled like diamonds. On the sand, I saw Nick wrap his arms around his wife’s waist and her head on his shoulder as they both gazed out at the vast blue sea.
Nikki and I had become good friends, so this wasn’t the first time I had seen them together. Still, this moment seemed so sweet and intimate that I felt like I should turn around and leave them alone. But I didn’t have time to waste, so I cleared my throat and moved on.
Of course, I knew they wouldn’t hear me. The sound of the sea crashing against the shore was enough to drown out the drone of the helicopter that had brought me here; without a doubt, it would be able to drown out my footsteps.
As if to agree with me, Nick kissed Nikki on the temple. My heart raced. I thought of the magazine in my bag and the man on the cover. He had kissed me the same way, and remembering the soft caress of his lips on my skin, my eyes stung. I told myself it was the wind and the salt spray, but of course, it wasn’t true.
It was sorrow and nostalgia. And yes, it was fear.
The fear of opening the door to something I wanted with all my might and yet knew I couldn’t control.
The fear of having screwed up all those years ago.
And the bitter knowledge that if I wasn’t very careful, the wall I had built around myself to protect myself would come crashing down, and my horrible secrets would be out in the open.
I gave a small start, startled, and realized I had been standing there for a while, staring vacantly and heading elsewhere.
“Mr. Dermont. Excuse me, I…”
“Are you okay?” Nikki asked as she approached with a worried face. “You seem a bit nervous.”
She stood next to me and took my arm.